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Filling the room with the love of Christ

Hundreds turn out for Harold Kurtz memorial service

January 19, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore.

The Oregon farm kid whose biggest dream as a child was traveling to Salem to see the Oregon state capitol building first-hand probably would have been surprised — but shouldn’t have been — to see hundreds of Presbyterians turn out for his memorial service.

But turn out they did January 9 at Westminster Presbyterian Church here to pay tribute to and remember, with much laughter and more than a few tears, the extraordinary life of the Rev. Harold Kurtz, whose journeys from that childhood farm near Adrian, Ore. — “a town too small to have a church” — took him and gospel he loved to the remotest corners of the earth.

“Harold filled this room,” said Westminster Pastor the Rev. Scott Dalgarno, “but because this room was not big enough, Harold filled the world with the love of Christ.”

For 20 years as a Presbyterian missionary in a remote village in Ethiopia and later as founding executive director of the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF), Kurtz literally wrote the book on the way the Presbyterian Church serves in partnership with indigenous churches and people without the gospel around the world.

He was the primary author of two papers — “Turn to the Living God”  and “Presbyterians Do Mission In Partnership” that together constitute the denomination’s primary policy for international mission service, said the Rev. Bill Young, the PC(USA)’s former international evangelism officer and Kurtz’ successor as executive director of PFF.

Harold and Polly Kurtz’ six children recounted growing up in the “boondocks” village of Majih, Ethiopia, where they said their father’s motto was: “Where He leads me I will follow; what they feed me I will swallow.”

Perhaps the most moving part of the two-hour service was the singing of “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” by a former student of Harold’s in Ethiopia, Aster Dibaba. “Because of Presbyterian mission, I had not just a chance to be educated but to know Jesus,” Aster told the hushed congregation. “As a schoolgirl in Ethiopia 40 years ago, Harold heard me sing and asked me to sing at his memorial service, whenever it was, and I promised. I’m here to keep my promise.”

Harold Kurtz died Dec. 18 of a brain tumor. He is survived by his wife, Polly; six children — Caroline, Jane, Joy, Cathy, Chris, Jan; 22 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A special remembrance is on the Passages Radio Show Web site when Harold Kurtz was featured on the program in March 2003. Passages is produced by the Presbyterian Media Mission in Pittsburgh.

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